Many of the people who suffer from narcissistic abuse (a form of psychological and emotional abuse) aren’t even aware that what they are experiencing is a legitimate form of abuse, and when they become aware they are being abused, they have a difficult time describing it because it’s so hard to put the finger on.
We came up with the hashtag, #IfMyWoundsWereVisible, because unlike physical abuse where a single strike or blow, often leaves marks or bruises and qualifies an act of domestic violence, narcissistic abuse is invisible. Narcissistic abuse is the sum of many unseen injuries. It’s an indiscernible assault on the spirit, identity, and the psyche of the victim. The impact is cumulative, and its full effect isn’t felt until the damage is extensive. Although bruises and broken bones heal much faster than a broken spirit, narcissistic abuse tends to go unnoticed because there aren’t any laws prohibiting mind games, browbeating, or name calling.
Why is narcissistic abuse awareness needed?
It’s a huge yet mostly invisible problem. According to studies between 1% and 6% of the population suffer from narcissistic personality disorder. This statistic doesn’t include the other cluster B disorders. (Stinson et al, 2000). Psychologist, Martha Stout, says that 1 in 25 people are sociopaths, the equivalent of Antisocial personality disorder. If we use a conservative estimate of 4% and apply Sandra L. Brown’s (2010) estimate that each of these individuals will have relationships with approximately five partners across their lifetimes, the impact of this abuse is huge. Sandra Brown estimates 80.8 million people are affected in the US, a number which does not include the children of narcissists. In Australia, a startling one in four women experiences emotional abuse by their partner (Our Watch, 2015). And it pays to bear in mind that the narcissist or sociopath isn’t always a significant other, they could be a parent, child, friend or co-worker. Trying to calculate that number is near impossible, though undeniably huge. Yet there is no campaign, funding, or education specifically focused on the effects of narcissistic abuse or public pathology education.
The term narcissist is frequently misunderstood and often misused
Everyone can recall the key elements of the story of Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection. Then there is mainstream media always warning us about the rampant narcissism of the younger generation, a generation obsessed with attention-seeking selfies and social media. But an obsession with self and sense of grandiosity are just a couple of the nicer things that can be said about true narcissists. And, sadly, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths (pathological individuals) will lie and manipulate, deny reality, and control a victim any way they can. Victims of narcissistic abuse are kept in a constant state of confusion, fueled by dizzying love one day and walking on eggshells the next. They are systematically isolated from friends and family. This behavior is cunningly calculated and designed to keep the narcissist’s fragile ego intact, while keeping their victim down. Victims often have no idea what is happening to them. It’s easy to believe a pathological when they tell you it’s all your fault, and they will tell you that, over and over. A narcissist doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and will blame everyone around them. Typically, they often attribute their own thoughts, feelings, and motivations to others, so they can shift the blame off themselves. When you’re blamed often enough you believe it, and victims can no longer see that the life they find themselves living is not a normal one. They lose all hope that things can ever be any different. A pathological’s behavior can be so confusing, so subtle, so undermining and so effectively controlling that it can take years for a victim to wake up and understand that it’s not their fault.
Not enough is documented about the effects of narcissistic abuse
Some research exists on narcissism, yet very little research exists about the effects on the victims at the receiving end of narcissistic abuse. The internet is littered with support forums and people seeking answers, desperately trying to pick up the tattered pieces of themselves and rebuild their lives. While many mental health professionals have an understanding of the definition of narcissism, few truly understand what it does to the victim of the abuse. Narcissistic abuse can cause mental, cognitive and physical health issues for victims, which can last for years after they escape an abusive relationship. Many victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or complex PTSD and the road to recovery is long and difficult.
No one should have to live like this
The more people who are aware of narcissistic abuse, the more they can spot the warning signs and save themselves or those they love from the serious and debilitating effects of being in a relationship with a pathological individual. The problems for victims are made worse because too little is known and understood about narcissistic abuse at an institutional level. This means legislation, support services, law enforcement and court systems the world over struggle to recognize perpetrators and fall woefully short in their ability to protect the victims.
The ongoing impact of narcissistic abuse on victims is similar to being a prisoner of war (Brown, 2016). It’s simply too big an issue to keep ignoring. We need to act now to stem the tide, to help provide victims with the knowledge to escape their narcissistic abusers, and hopefully prevent more victims falling prey to narcissists.
Brown, Sandra L. “The Damage They Do |.” Your Recovery Starts Here. N.p., 03 Dec. 2016. Web. 04 May 2017. Brown, Sandra L. “60 Million Persons in the US Negatively Affected by Someone Else’s Pathology.” 60 Million Persons in the US Negatively Affected by Someone Else’s Pathology |. N.p., 13 Oct. 2010. Web. 04 May 2017. Our Watch (2015). Let’s change the story: Violence against women in Australia. Available at: https://www.ncbi.